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Lillian de Lissa, Women Teachers and Teacher Education in the Twentieth Century

A Transnational History

Kay Whitehead

Beginning with Lillian de Lissa’s career as foundation principal of the Adelaide Kindergarten Training College in Australia (1907–1917) and Gipsy Hill Training College in London (1917–1947), and incorporating the lives and work of her Australian and British graduates, this book illuminates the transnational circulation of knowledge about teacher education and early childhood education in the twentieth century. Acutely aware of anxieties regarding the role of modern women and the social positioning of teachers, students who attended college under de Lissa’s leadership experienced a progressive institutional culture and comprehensive preparation for work as kindergarten, nursery and infant teachers.

Drawing on a broad range of archival material, this study explores graduates’ professional and domestic lives, leisure activities and civic participation, from their initial work as novice teachers through diverse life paths to their senior years. Due to the interwar marriage bar, many women teachers married, resigned from paid work and became mothers. The book explores their experiences, along with those of lifelong teachers whose work spread across a range of educational fields and different parts of the world. Although most graduates spent their lives in Australia or England, de Lissa’s personal and professional networks traversed the British dominions and colonies, Europe and the USA, fostering fascinating global connections between people, places and educational ideas.

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CHAPTER 2: ‘Miss de Lissa Has Chosen a Life Work’ in Teacher Education


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‘Miss de Lissa Has Chosen a Life Work’ in Teacher Education

In the late nineteenth century, campaigns for women’s suffrage were gathering momentum in the Australian colonies along with the movement towards federation. Indigenous and white women’s suffrage and the right to stand for election was won in South Australia in 1894, but only white women were accorded these rights upon federation in 1901.1 At the same time, ‘the new Commonwealth of Australia resolved, in the words of Prime Minister Barton, “to make a legislative declaration of our racial identity”’ with the White Australia policy.2 Thus Australia was constructed as a white settler nation with ongoing allegiances to the British Empire, and having much in common with other British dominions and non-British nations such as the USA. Leading Australian liberal progressives, including South Australian feminist Catherine Helen Spence, maintained their imperial allegiances and were well connected transnationally.3 Spence emigrated to South Australia from Scotland in the mid-nineteenth century and worked as a journalist, novelist and social reformer. She toured the USA in 1893, lecturing on effective voting. She also attended the Congress of Women at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Thereafter, she joined the women’s suffrage campaign in South Australia and played an active role in framing the new Australian constitution. Like many feminists of the era, Spence had wide ranging interests in education and the welfare of women and children, and supported the new state school system, reforms in...

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